Antarctica: The Last Frontier! My Experience on an Expedition Air Cruise

After 5 years of daydreaming and 3 years with the trip reservation, I finally made it to Antarctica! I knew back in 2018 that I wanted to start saving up for a trip to the frozen continent, but it wasn’t until January of 2020, two weeks into my current job that I booked my deposit through the third party travel agency, Chimu Adventures. Costing a “cheap” $4,000 USD for a triple room, I was immediately lured in by the price. I had been searching on and off for an expedition that costed under $5k USD (most Antarctica cruises range from $7-15k for 1-2 weeks). And while I’ve heard of travelers flying down to Ushuaia in search of a last-minute deal for $2-3k, I knew I wouldn’t have the vacation time or flexibility with work to take that risk. I calculated how many vacation days I would have at that time and booked my deposit. 2021 was going to be the year I made it to my 7th continent at 30 years old, reaching my goal to hit all 7 continents by 30.

And then COVID-19 was declared a pandemic two months after booking my deposit…

Hitting all 7 continents at 32 will have to do!

Since none of us knew how long COVID would stay around and overall travel would stay on pause, I decided to just keep my deposit to hold my spot. Needless to say my trip for January of 2021 was pushed to December 2021, which also ended up getting postponed. At that point, I decided to try waiting until 2023, as they were still honoring my 2020 price. And the third time is the charm as it went on as planned!

Having done a lot of “revenge travel” throughout 2022, I just barely had enough vacation time left for the expedition and to spend two days around Santiago before heading home. It also helped that the trip was on the same week as Martin Luther King day, a holiday I luckily get off (travel tip: if you can plan your travel around a holiday weekend, it is so worth it to preserve that extra PTO day). So with all of that falling into place, I decided to pay the remaining balance (which was due a week before my birthday, ouch) and bought my flights.

A part of me still worried that my trip would somehow have been cancelled, so I didn’t even share the news of my trip, except with my husband, Sean of course, or think much about it until after New Year’s. Then the panic set in…Am I really ready to travel to the end of the world?! I hadn’t even told my mother yet…I started telling everyone of my upcoming adventures, bought some last minute polar clothes on Amazon, and packed a mix of cold weather and warm weather clothes for my few days in Chile. I finally felt ready to do this!

My home on the high seas

This Antarctica “air cruise” started by ship in the small city of Ushuaia, Argentina, also known as “fin del Mundo” (“end of the world”), We would cross the Drake Passage by ship to the South Shetland Islands, then take a plane back from King George Island to Punta Arenas, Chile. My journey down to Ushuaia itself was a chaotic adventure, involving 30 hours of straight travel on 5 different flights. I got double scammed with transportation in Buenos Aires, transferring between airports, which I didn’t realize until the night before at Logan airport that I’d need a transfer. My credit card ended up getting frozen with suspected fraud and no one in Argentina took US dollars with all of their currency complications. After years of saving and planning for this trip, I was in tears and ready to turn around and head home.

30 hours later, I made it!

But luckily I’m persistent and don’t give up that easily! I eventually made it to Ushuaia in one piece and had a day to relax before boarding my ship for the next 5 days.

Ushuaia, Argentina

When I finally boarded the ship, I had a mix of nerves and excitement. I booked a triple due to costs and was nervous about having roommates for the first time in 10 years. Luckily I had the best roommates I could have ever asked for! The cruise was a surprising mix of solo travelers, couples and families. Us solo travelers formed our own group and we all became fast friends.

With my new friends, Precious and Sabrina!

The first night at sea was filled with rose colored glasses and excitement. We stopped at the southernmost town in the world, Puerto Williams in Chile to explore, which would be our last piece of land for the next two days.

Puerto Williams, Chile, the calm before the storm

The Drake Passage is the roughest body of water in the world, where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans collide. As someone who’s recently developed motion sickness, I had my Dramamine and motion sickness relief patches at the ready. Passengers either experience the “Drake Lake” or the “Drake Shake”. Unfortunately we were not lucky enough to experience the lake. No amount of Dramamine and patches could prepare me for what was to come…

I lived in my bottom bunk the first day at sea.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe, our crew said we experienced a “5”, with 30 foot waves crashing against the ship. Going up and down the stairs proved to be a daunting task at first. We all met for breakfast that first morning then went to the lounge upstairs to hang out. I may have lasted 10 minutes after breakfast before excusing myself to become acquaintances with my cabin barf bag…

Trying to survive the “Drake Shake”. Travel isn’t always glamorous (and neither am I)!

I ended up lying in bed for the rest of the day until dinner time, trying to sleep off the nausea. However sleeping, along with other daily tasks we take for granted proved to be challenging. It took all of my being not to slide in my bed as my head and feet would hit the head and foot boards. By dinner, the currents were getting worse and we were all literally holding onto the tables to prevent from tipping over. Someone had the not so bright idea to bring out glass wear and we had dozens of wine glasses spill and shatter all over the dining room. It was the most chaotic dinner I have ever experienced!

Some nights it was a challenge to keep the food on our plates

Most of us were acclimated and developed our sea legs by day 2, even though the ocean conditions were getting worse. With the nausea finally gone, I was able to find the entire experience comical, trying to balance and hang on to the walls walking across the ship. After roughing it a few days, I decided to try to take a shower, which involved a lot of grip and trying to avoid falling into the sink! We spent a “boring” day at sea by enjoying the views and brisk air on deck, hanging out in the library, and sharing travel stories and dreams.

The library onboard

After two full days of crossing the Drake Passage, we were so excited to finally see some land. As we were only visiting the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, it wasn’t quite as snowy as I imagined. However, there were so many penguins and a few seals and sea lions enjoying the Antarctica summer! I love seeing animals out in the wild in their natural habitat! But to be honest, the smell of the penguins was quite shocking!

Half Moon Island, Antarctica

We took a zodiac (motorized, inflatable boat) and made our way to shore. We ended up doing two shore excursions to Half Moon Island, due to the weather conditions not being ideal at a neighboring island. In order to not to affect this pristine environment, we had to wear special boots and have them sanitized in between excursions. After a few days at sea, it was wonderful to wander on land and get some fresh air on this amazing continent.

Near the Argentinian research base
Photo shoot in Antarctica!

In between our shore excursions, half of the cruise members participated in an epic polar plunge, including yours truly! I was the first woman on the ship crazy enough to dive into the Antarctic waters. They wrapped a bungee cord around my waste, in case of any emergencies. My arms were so numb jumping into that water, the crew members had to drag me up out of the ocean! Luckily I had a shot of vodka waiting for me to warm up.

Sometimes you have to embrace the crazy and go for it!

The next day was our last day on this expedition. We made our way to King George Island, which is home to both Chile’s and Russia’s research bases. It was an interesting experience to board a plane on an island at the end of the world. But we were all so happy for the 2 hour flight to skip another 2 days of crossing the Drake Passage again.

Goodbye (for now) Antarctica

We landed in Punta Arenas, Chile for our last night of our expedition before going our separate ways. Most of us solo travelers opted for a final dinner and chance to explore together.

Overall my five day air cruise was an amazing experience and a great introductory trip to Antarctica. However I’d like to actually step foot on the Antarctica peninsula and hope to be back on another expedition in the next few years (maybe 2026?). But I had the experience of a lifetime and I made some incredible friends along the way!


3 responses to “Antarctica: The Last Frontier! My Experience on an Expedition Air Cruise”

  1. wow… that’s such a great experience!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It was definitely an experience of a lifetime! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good for you for taking the polar plunge, and what a bummer about your travel troubles. But hey, you made it and had quite the adventure, it seems. Plus, you’ve been where few people ever go. So cool!

    Liked by 1 person

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